The Assistant Director of Therapeutic Recreation at a nursing home several hours from my home sent me an email a couple weeks ago. She wrote “I recently started a support group for some of our residents who are struggling to cope with depression and loss of independence related to having had strokes. At our last meeting, the conversation turned to mobility and adaptations. One resident was feeling hopeless about his lack of ability to do things he used to do. They were interested to learn more! I am reaching out to see if you would be interested in setting up a video conference to guest speak at one of our meetings and offer advice, encouragement, answer questions, etc.”
We had the meeting earlier this week and it was one of the most positive activities I’ve participated in in a long time. I showed a short video which talked about what had happened to me and the things I had learned over the last 20 years that help me cope today. After the video there was time for questions and answers which I personally found highly rewarding. There was a closeness that was brought about by being able to address questions face-to-face as the laptop in the nursing home was moved to each individual when they asked the question. As I interacted with these individuals, I began to realize that they were still in the early stages of the onset of their disabilities. So, I decided to share with them some of the struggles I had early on, and at times still have, adjusting to the new situation I found myself in. Two questions plagued me early on. The first was would I still be a positive contributor to society, or would I just occupy time until I passed away. The second and much more important question was would I ever be able to return to the activities that gave me quality of life. Years later, I realized the answer to both of those questions resided in me. What happened to me in this new life would be the result of how I chose to deal with the situation. I often refer to that choice as choosing Helplessness or Empowerment.
I am not a specialist, authority, or counselor on the topic of disability, but having been there, I feel confident in talking about what I believe is a “normal” process that many people go through with the onset of their disability. I felt very strongly that I should share some of the painful experiences I went through early on during rehabilitation. Life seemed hopeless, depressing with no promise of a solution. For a while I seriously considered Suicide and took a plan to the precipice before I realized how totally selfish that was. People need time to grieve. They have lost the function of a part of their body. Chances are good their life will never be the same. That idea can lead to panic and insecurity as to what the future holds. Individuals need to understand that these feelings are normal, and they have every right in the world to feel depressed and hopeless in the beginning.
However, the grieving process must be passed through and life must begin again. It is possible for many to regain the skills necessary to participate in activities they enjoy and provide them quality of life. This recovery, like so much of their new life, is part of a process. It doesn’t take place in days or in months, but it will take place with the proper attitude over time.
If an individual wants to be strong physically there are all types of programs and exercises, they can do to increase their physical abilities. Likewise, if a person wants to be strong mentally, they must work on that to build up their mental strength. The process involves steps like accepting what has happened, concentrating on abilities, not disabilities, commitment to move on, getting rid of anger and resentment. Realizing things will never be the same, but a new life can be meaningful and rewarding. Activities which can help encourage these realizations included meditating, Imaging, counseling and support groups. All these changes, in turn, can help lead to individual empowerment.